Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York

By Peter J. Galie | Go to book overview

To be sure, a political culture deeply suspicious of power and authority would not have countenanced direct state control of the economy, but a tradition of active regulation and encouragement of the economy had developed in the first half of the nineteenth century. The significance of the 1846 convention was its retreat from this tradition and its redefining the role of the government in society, ensuring that the transformation of the socio-economic order of New York would take place under the umbrella, but not the active direction, of the government. 50

The 1846 convention was the high-water point in the move to divest the legislature of what had come to be thought of as essentially local duties. The various limitations on the exercise of legislative power had the effect of reducing the administrative functions of the legislature. The 1846 Constitution specifically authorized the legislature to delegate more responsibility to local units. 51 These provisions had been preceded by a series of statutes enlarging the duties of county boards of supervisors, including the power to levy and collect taxes. 52 Pursuant to the authorization to delegate more responsibility, the legislature in 1849 enacted a statute giving the boards certain legislative powers including that of creating new towns, dividing existing ones, purchasing real estate needed for public purposes, and, within specified limits, levying taxes and borrowing money. 53 Although intended to reduce the workload of the legislature and remove it from the business of special and local legislation, the effect was to boost the powers and activities of local governments, laying the groundwork for future calls for more local self-government.

Along with its long list of restrictions on legislative power, the 1846 Constitution continued the tendency, evident in the 1821 Constitution, of providing constitutional solutions to new problems created by economic expansionism. Similarly, the new constitution reflected the continuing success of attempts by various groups and regional interests to have their goals more permanently protected by ensconcing them in the constitution. As in 1821, one immediate result of this transformation in the ideas of what a constitution should and should not do was the lengthening of the document. The 1777 Constitution contained approximately 6,600 words, including the Declaration of Independence which was incorporated into its preamble. By 1846, the length of the state's constitution had more than tripled, to 20,400 words.


NOTES
1.
The major critic of the notion of Jacksonian Democracy, Lee Benson, agrees that an egalitarian revolution took place. Benson, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy, pp. 336-337.

-113-

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